-The Eye of the Sun-
Johnny helped the Guardian as they trudged slowly through the forest. The old man was very weak, and his injuries were dire, but he kept his pain to himself and soldiered on bravely. Johnny had thought that they were heading to the pyramid, and was surprised when the Guardian led him onto a different path. He had never been this way before, and hoped that the Guardian would have the strength to guide him back to the ship once they had found the crystal.
For several hours they made their torturous way forward until at last the Guardian indicated they should stop. Johnny set him down gently, and helped him lay back against the bole of a nearby tree.
‘Are we here?’ he asked, breathing heavily.
‘Yes my Lord,’ the old man replied, eyes closed. ‘Up ahead you will find the ruins of a long forgotten temple, hidden in the trees. It is in there that you will find the Eye of the Sun.’
Johnny squinted through the trees dubiously. He couldn’t see a temple. But time was running out. The sun was low in the sky and nightfall would be upon them shortly.
‘Tell me what I must do,’ Johnny said. The Guardian looked very weak, and Johnny sensed he didn’t have long to live.
‘My Lord, it is a dangerous path upon which you must tread. Many pitfalls and hidden dangers await the uninitiated,’ he replied tiredly. ‘I cannot continue, and cannot offer any further assistance, but I can offer some advice,’ he said again.
Looking up at Johnny, he continued. ‘Listen carefully. A Guardian of the lore comes to this place only three times in his life,’ he said.
‘Firstly, when he is initiated and accepts the mantle from his predecessor. It is at this time that the final secrets reveal themselves.
‘Again, in the noon of his reign, when he has reached the height of his power and knowledge, the Guardian then returns. It is symbolic of his Guardianship, and it shows the gods that he does not neglect his duties.
‘And for one final time, he will return, when he at last relinquishes his mantle to his apprentice. This I would have performed with Jade, had it been so ordained.’ The Guardian paused, regaining some of his strength, before continuing.
‘Had I died, and had you somehow found Jade, it would have availed you little, for she has never been here before. It is sacred ground and forbidden to all but the initiated, and Jade is uninitiated. You would never have found this place or penetrated its secrets,’ he said.
‘Inside, you will be confronted with many dangers, placed there to foil the uninvited. Trust in yourself. You are a god, Chonirobytz – I do not doubt this. You will prevail,’ he said, looking up at Johnny.
‘Follow the clues and use your head, my Lord, and you may yet find Jade and release her from the clutches of the evil men who have captured her.’
Johnny nodded soberly.
‘My Lord,’ said the old man quietly, ‘it has been my honour to serve you. Knowing you are here eases my soul on the path upon which it must now take. Tell Jade I love her, and treat her as the queen she would have become, and may yet be.’
His eyes fluttered, and he let out a long, rattling sigh as his head fell forward on his chest and his body slumped slowly to the ground. Johnny sat mourning in silence as he stared at this wise old man that had come to mean so much to him. Finally standing up, he whispered, ‘You have my word, my friend.’
Turning in the direction the old man had indicated, Johnny started forward.
Just through the trees, he came across the ruins the Guardian had told him to expect. The temple was entirely covered by trees and vines, and would be invisible to anybody who didn’t know where to look for it. He cast around until at last he came to the entrance.
Like the dark maw of a wild animal, it yawned before him, black and uninviting. Johnny had to gather his nerve before taking the first step.
Temporarily blinded by the lack of light, Johnny paused to let his eyes adjust. He moved forward gingerly, step-by-step, until – with a yelp of fright – his foot brushed something on the floor, which clattered loudly in the confined space. Calming himself, he peered down, and with a sigh of relief, he spotted an old wooden torch, bundled with rags, lying at his feet. He unravelled the bundle and retrieved a flint and kindling, obviously meant to light the torch.
He lit the torch and immediately felt better. It was amazing the difference that the warm, yellow glow made, and Johnny set out with renewed purpose. He studied the walls as he cautiously edged down the sloping passageway.
Murals and carvings covered the walls, depicting scenes of sacrifice and worship, and battle and conquest. He stopped and studied a section of the wall decorated in the ancient cartoon-like hieroglyphs typical of the region. He felt a familiar recognition, as if he could read them if only he didn’t try so hard.
He remembered the warning the old man had given him regarding the dangers and pitfalls he might expect, and turned to study the ground in front of him. The passageway sloped downwards at a gentle angle, and continued straight for as far as the light from the torch allowed him to see. As he moved forward, something held him back – a sense of danger that he couldn’t quite pinpoint, but was real nonetheless. He looked around again, but he couldn’t see anything out-of-place.
As unrealistic as it was, Johnny had hoped to see the Guardian’s footprints from his previous visit – even though it was decades prior to this. The years that had passed had covered all trace, and the dust lay undisturbed on the floor. Looking back at the hieroglyphs, the sense of déjà vu overcame him again. He held the torch up close to the carved symbols and studied them in detail.
‘Stop trying so hard,’ he whispered to himself. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift, and similar to that of a puzzle image which only resolves itself when viewed through peripheral vision, Johnny saw it… and as clear as day, he recognised the symbols for what they were; a warning.
Beware, beware, O stranger, who dares to enter here!
The precincts of the gods this is, hallowed and austere.
Pure of heart, and cleansed of sin, you must be to proceed,
If wealth you seek, then death you’ll find, to satisfy your greed!
Only he who has their blessing may dwell between these walls,
Only those who bear their likeness may dine within their halls.
If rest you seek, and solace begs, then come and be at ease,
But ensure you pay the doorman, the keeper of the keys.
His fare is fair, his payment due, so give him what he needs,
A drop of blood is all he asks to satisfy his greed.
Should you satisfy his hunger, admit you then he must,
Should your payment be substandard, your bones will turn to dust!
Heed this well, O stranger, for your fate is in your hand,
Keep your wits about you when you tread on hallowed land.
Johnny read the warning slowly and carefully, and understood it immediately. At some point soon, he would be required to pass a test that required giving a sample of his blood. He had no choice but to trust the Guardian’s judgement that he would prevail, and that his bones wouldn’t lie here for all eternity.
Walking forward slowly, his eyes scanning the walls, ensuring he didn’t overlook any further clues, he made his way further down the tunnel. Just beyond the light of the torch, a shape emerged out of the darkness.
It took him a moment to recognise it for what it was, and as he moved closer, Johnny realised there was a door that blocked the passage.
As he approached, it resolved itself, and Johnny studied it carefully. It was adorned with more murals, and it had a large handle, inviting all who approached it to give it a turn. Johnny reached forward, about to open the door, then jerked his hand away, shocked that he had nearly fallen victim to the trap.
The warning! He searched the door, but found nothing; he searched the wall to his right, but still couldn’t see anything. He glanced over to the left, and there carved out meticulously, was another passage containing hieroglyphs.
The doorman seeks his payment if you wish to walk his land.
Pay your fare, O stranger, and place it in his hand.
Johnny looked keenly at the picture painted on the wall.
The colours were faded, but he could make it out quite clearly. The image depicted a man, or a god, standing with one hand stretched out. He held his torch up close and noticed that the plaster over the image’s hand bulged outwards, and formed a tiny receptacle.
He thought he understood; he was to cut his finger and place it over the receptacle, and then… what? He supposed something would happen – if his blood payment proved acceptable, that is.
Using the flint he had found with the torch, Johnny gave his index finger a quick prick, and watched as a drop of blood welled up from the surface.
He placed his finger on the receptacle and waited, watching the door anxiously.
To his surprise, it wasn’t the door that opened, but the wall to his right! A great panel had risen out of view, exposing another descending passageway, and Johnny let out a sigh of relief.
He entered and continued walking.
The door he had seen was obviously a trap, and anybody entering the temple that couldn’t understand the warning and attempted to use it, would probably meet some grim end.
He didn’t know what would happen to those who did heed the warning, but found their fare unaccepted.
This passage wasn’t as long as the previous one, and Johnny soon found himself at a T-junction. Left or right, he couldn’t decide.
He noticed more hieroglyphs and stepped up for a closer look.
Servant, you are welcome, come within and serve.
The right hand path is closed to you, and is the gods preserve.
The left hand path is open, and yours to use as pleased,
in the service of your lords and masters, to ensure that they are eased.
His instinct told him to take the left hand passage, as this would be the safer choice. What surprises awaited the unfaithful servant who attempted to take the forbidden right hand path?
But he remembered the Guardians words too, and also the way that Jade and the Guardian had refused to accept him as anything other than a god, so he decided to try the right hand path. He could always chicken out and return down the other one if he felt things were getting out of hand.
He took a few steps up the right-hand passage and immediately another door confronted him. This one had no handle, and no murals. There were also no hieroglyphs to decipher.
But… there was something there that sent a shiver of unexpected pleasure running up his spine.
Johnny laughed out loud, with all his fears evaporating, as he looked at the handprint on the wall. It was identical to the handprints he had become so familiar with on the ship, and he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would be admitted.
He placed his hand on the imprint, and the door opened up for him.
So I really am a god? he thought. Somehow it still didn’t ring true. The very thought of it was just absurd. He put the thought out of his mind as he entered the large room in front of him.
There was something eerie, alien, about this room; something which he couldn’t quite put his finger on, and with only the flickering light from the torch to guide him, he didn’t explore long.
He needed to find the Star – the Eye of the Sun – and, as Johnny looked around, it occurred to him that, firstly, it was doubtful that it would be kept in a room which looked suspiciously like a communal area, and that, secondly, assuming the Guardian only ever used the left-hand passage, he would have to go back and explore the other side.
Johnny retraced his steps, and found himself in the opposite passage. He descended a series of stairs, and then followed the passage as it turned right and led out into a large hall. Johnny came to a sudden halt.
The entire hall was crammed with a myriad of artefacts – he stood dead still as he looked around in complete awe.
Golden statues aligned the walls, and chests of precious metals and gemstones were stacked all over the place. Priceless relics of wood and stone competed with equally valuable tapestries and murals.
In a shelf along the far wall, Johnny noticed hundreds of parchment scrolls stacked on top of each other. He realised that the information they contained probably outstripped the value of the entire contents in the room altogether.
But Johnny wasn’t here for the treasure… he was here for the Star, and it didn’t take long for him to find it. In pride of place, resting on a plinth designed for the purpose, Johnny saw the Eye of the Sun.
There in front of him, was the crystal… the crystal he needed to bring the ship back to life, and to help him find Jade! Icy blue and shaped like a large egg, it took his breath away. He took it from its resting place, and then, as an afterthought, he placed the broken remains of the original Star in its place. It seemed like the right thing to do.
I have what I need! Johnny thought ecstatically, as he ran back up the stairs and down the passage. He reached the hidden door and was relieved to find a mundane lever system that opened it up from the inside.
At least I don’t have to cut myself again, he thought to himself. He ran back up the long passage, until he finally escaped the dark, dank confines of the temple, and was back out in the fresh, clean air.
Darkness had fallen and now Johnny was faced with a new dilemma… he didn’t have the Guardian to guide him back to the ship, let alone the village!
He gently pulled the Star from his robes and scrutinised it further in the torchlight… it seemed to have an inner fire that burned of its own accord; Johnny could see why it was called the ‘Eye of the Sun’ and the ‘Star’.
He began the long, wearisome journey back to the village in the pitch dark, somehow guided by his intuition. It was several hours before he finally found it and began the equally tiresome walk back to the pyramid, and then the ship.
The eastern sky was already becoming light as he climbed the last steps of the pyramid and entered the ship. He reached the third level, opened the panel, and placed the Eye of the Sun inside.
He waited, exhausted.
At first, nothing happened, then slowly the fire in the stone started burning brighter and brighter, and at last it flipped over, hesitated a second, then with a blinding flash, it levitated and hung suspended within its capsule, burning like the sun.
Johnny closed the panel, turned to face the controls, and fainted dead on his feet.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2012
Cover artwork: Adam Van Der Riet © 2012
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© 2012 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved